The Haka

I have very fond memories of New Zealand. While en route to Canada in 1971 I spent over a month hitch hiking around the islands enjoying the scenery and the incredible hospitality of the people. It was my first brush with real snow capped mountains and the New Zealand version of Bush Walking known locally as tramping. I returned there several years later with my life partner and 12 month old son. This time, once again, about to head back to Canada. We really liked New Zealand and “the itch” to travel just wouldn’t go away. We ended up in Kimberley, B.C. for a few years and finally decided to take a year long sabbatical and New Zealand was the obvious destination. We both liked the place and there were opportunities for both of us to find gainful employment. It was an opportunity for my wife to get back into the work force as a Registered Nurse. We wandered around the North Island for a bit and settled in Whangerei for the best part of six to eight months. I played the house parent, read lots of books about the Islands,  while Mae (my wife) worked at the local hospital. The climate was great, the people and life style relaxing but still we had “the itch” . We decided to move around a bit while still searching for more adventure and another place to work. We headed down the North Island to finally end up is Gisborne on the East Cape. There I had a sort of revelation. Standing on the beach at Gisborne while looking east I realized that there was no significant land mass until you hit Chile in South America. Looking south there was no significant land mass until you reached the frozen landscape of Antarctica. Looking north, for all intents and purposes, there was nothing until you reached Asia. We were standing on the edge of the world. And it really felt like it. The sensation was almost over whelming. With the island at our back the great wide Pacific Ocean stretched North, South and East for thousands and thousands of  kilometers’. I found Whakatane Heads 15 3 2006.JPGthat intimidating. Somewhat humbled by the experience we head back into more populous region of the island. We decided that Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty area possibly offered the best chances for employment and, that may have been true, but the catch in the scheme was trying to find a place to live. We could not find a place to put down even temporarily while looking for employment. Staying in hotels was not an option. Despite the attractions of this heartland of Maori culture we decided that with only a few months of the sabbatical left we should head off and visit relatives in Australia. With some reluctance that is what we did.

New Zealand must be one of the few places in the new world where the indigenous people and culture have left an acknowledged  mark on the white man. Over the two centuries of contact the white inhabitants of New Zealand have been enriched with an infusion of Maori culture. So when I recently stumbled on the following YouTube videos of the Maori Haka it all came flooding back.The kids singing mass in Maori; the Polynesian rhythms that infuses jazz bands that play in the pubs; The incredible musicality of the Maori; The young Maori with tribal tattoos; It was like I was still there.  When I watch these videos and I immediately get choked up almost to point of tears.

For those that are unaware ….. “The haka is a ceremonial dance or challenge in Maori culture. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. Although commonly associated with the traditional battle preparations of male warriors, the Haka have been performed by both men and women, and several varieties of the dance fulfill social functions within Māori culture. Haka are performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

New Zealand sports teams’ practice of performing a haka before their international matches has made the Haka more widely known around the world. This tradition began with the 1888-89 New Zealand Native Football Team tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand Rugby Union Team (“All Blacks”) since 1905.” …. Wikipedia.

I offer them to you for your enjoyment………

The Islands of New Zealand are at the end of the earth but still well worth an extended visit. If this has whetted your appetite for New Zealand I suggest the Film Once Were Warriors. It is a wonderful movie, a  little dark perhaps, but well worth finding and watching.

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Extreme (#2) – Alex Honnold : Free Solo

“In the mind of the climbing world, Honnold emerged from the goo fully formed. In 2006 nobody had heard of him. In 2007 he free soloed Yosemite’s Astroman and the Rostrum in a day, matching Peter Croft’s legendary 1987 feat, and suddenly Honnold was pretty well-known. A year later, he free soloed the 1,200-foot, 5.12d finger crack that splits Zion’s Moonlight Buttress. The ascent was reported on April 1. For days, people thought the news was a joke. Five months afterward, Honnold took the unprecedented step of free soloing the 2,000-foot, glacially bulldozed Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Croft called this climb the most impressive ropeless ascent ever done.” …. Wikipedia

THIS MUST SEE FILM WAS SCREENED AT THE KEY CITY THEATER IN CRANBROOK, THURSDAY JANUARY 17, 2019

Here are some video clips to get your attention……..

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POST SCRIPT: After having seen the film I can only say that it is an extraordinary example of documentary film making. The scenery was spectacular,the photography spell binding, the subject matter engaging and the possible outcomes emotionally terrifying. Alex is the ultimate climbing nerd and not one you would want your children or siblings to emulate. If you have an opportunity to see this film don’t miss it.

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Extreme (#1) – Motor Cycles

I have never really been into motor bikes. In my twenties I toyed with the idea of getting a bike purely to take care of my transportation needs. My uncle talked me out of it and helped me get my first car. I think it was a wise move. In my parent’s day motor cycles were big. I mean the actual bikes were big. With engines over 350ccs the government  of the day decided, probably because of insurance costs, they had to go. They raised  the registration fee (Insurance rates) to a prohibitive level and that forced the big bikes off the road. In a very short time virtually all big motor cycles disappeared off the streets of Sydney (Australia). The Japanese manufacturers took advantage of the situation and aggressively marketed small sporty bikes that captured the imagination of the youth market. The advertisements on the top forty radio shows were not too subtle with their catch phrase  “get something hot and throbbing between your legs …. hop on a Honda”. Soon the soundscape of the beach side suburbs was dominate by the mosquito buzz of 90cc Suzukis, Hondas, etc. The newer, smaller, bikes ran on a thimble full of gas  and cost next to nothing to register and insure.  They were no less dangerous. One could argue that accident rates probably increased. This was in the days of no helmets or protective gear. It was not uncommon to see a bike belting down the beach front road in Manly, manned by youth clad only in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. I lost a number of friends to deadly street crashes. There was no particular street racing culture to blame. It was just the nature of the beast – light, fast and no protection. There was a racing scene but it centered around flat track racing at one of the local arenas. I don’t know if that style of racing exists anymore. Dirt bikes probably fill that particular need for excitement these days. In flat track racing there was a simple formula. Assemble a number of bike riders on a circular cinder track and let them go at it. It was cheap, spectacular and any one with the nerve “could give it a go”. The visual spectacle of a stack of bikes roaring around a track in what was basically a controlled skid with the riders sticking their inside his leg out to slide on the cinder track and prevent the bike sliding out from under them had great visual appeal. It was crazy but bike fans loved it. Compared to the races on the Isle of Man it was positively sane.

Even back in those days I knew about the Isle of Man TT Race. One of my uncle’s employees was killed on the Isle of Man track and when you view the following videos you can see how that could happen. So called “Crotch Rockets” have their appeal but this activity is purely insane.

and now the save of the year…………

It doesn’t get any more extreme than this……..

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Read any Good Books Lately? (#13) – The African Trilogy

I vaguely remember a quote from author Peter Rimmer that was something along the lines of “you don’t have to be born in Africa to be an African” and he may be the living proof of that. Born in London he was, technically, an Englishman. He grew up in the south of the city and went to Cranleigh School. After the Second World War at age of  18 he joined the Royal Air Force, reaching the rank of Pilot Officer before he was 19. Then at the end of his National Service and with the optimism of youth, he sailed for Africa with his older brother to grow tobacco in what was then Rhodesia, and the odyssey of his life and his love affair with Africa began.

The years went by and Peter found himself in Johannesburg founding an insurance brokering company. Over 2% of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange were clients of Rimmer Associates. He opened companies in the United States of America, Australia and Hong Kong and traveled extensively between the branches.

His passion had always been writing books, which he started at a very early age, though running a business was a driving force too and a common thread throughout his books. By the 1990’s, he had written several novels about Africa and England, and his breakthrough came with Cry of the Fish Eagle published by HarperCollins, Zimbabwe. It was a bestseller, which was followed up with the release of Vultures in the Wind. However, during this time, Zimbabwe was going through its struggles and the books did not get their just international recognition.

Having lived a reclusive life on his beloved smallholding in Knysna, South Africa, for over 25 years, Peter passed away in July 2018. He has left an enormous legacy of unpublished work for his family to release over the coming years, and not only them but also his readers from around the world will sorely miss him. Peter Rimmer was 81 years old.

That thumbnail biography pretty well encapsulates the story lines of the novels he published as THE AFRICAN TRIOLOGY.

The publicity info about the three novel is as follows:

Book 1: Cry of the Fish Eagle
Rupert’s family is happy and at peace. But a vulnerable future is ahead. Chaos is coming. The Rhodesian War is looming…  Rupert escapes to Rhodesia from the bloody conflict that is terrorizing Europe. His mission is not just duty-driven but a promise to look for an orphaned, young girl. It’s a futile search and with time running out he has no choice but to re-join the theater of war. When peace returns Rupert travels back to Rhodesia to begin anew, to find the orphaned girl and to start a new life. But nothing can prepare him for what is next as we helplessly watch Rupert wade against a chaotic tide of nationalism.

Book 2: Vultures in the Wind
Luke was close to death. He had been beaten mercilessly and was unrecognizable. They wanted the names of his ANC accomplices. Matthew Gray and Luke Mbeki were born on the same day, spending a brief childhood on an African beach, blissfully ignorant of the outside world. But their youth is severed. Released into the real world, the two now face their future in a country deep in the throes of violent change. Can the rules and discipline of discrimination pull the men apart? Is there any mercy? And what happens when these two eventually cross paths?

Book 3: Just the Memory of Love
Will he ever find his love again or will she always just be a memory?  The war is finally over and for the young and naïve Will Langton, his future is full of exciting adventure and happy dreams. Captivated by a brief, but innocent love affair on the rocks of Dancing Ledge, the romance is shattered in one single moment and she is lost to him. For Will, it’s an unbearable pain that he cannot hope to escape from and the only means to assuage his sorrow is to run away… to Africa.

These are stories about post World War II South Africa and Rhodesia and the rise of Black Nationalism in that part of the world. All three books are a great read about the lives of interesting individuals set in a very chaotic period of history. The author’s political points of view, and there are a number, are very evident but do not mar the story. It is evident that he thought that the colonial period was not all together bad. On the other hand he thought that Black Nationalism has been a disaster. He obviously dislikes Apartheid and the inherent evils of its institutionalized racism and yet he paints the anti-apartheid movement in less than a favorable light. He has no love for the socialism of post war Britain and holds the benefits of  capitalism in fairly high regard. In doing so he is not blind to some glaring faults in the system.

I had a Rhodesian friend, Paul Dickenson, who died a few years back. On reading this trilogy I wish Paul was still around so I pick his brains about growing up in Rhodesia. At that time Rhodesia was the bread basket of Southern Africa and from a colonial point of view a paradise. Now, of course, it is a basket case. “One Man, One Vote” rules the day but one must ask at what cost.

If a reader is a fan of Wilbur Smith’s African stories then his trilogy, available on Kindle for under $10 will have great appeal.

I am also looking forward to reading The Brigandshaw Chronicles (Books 1-3) by the same author. These novels are set in South Africa during the Boer War period. They are also available on Kindle for under $10.

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Read any Good Books Lately? (#12) – The Korean War: A History

We all live through historical events. Some we don’t recall and others are only vague memories. Even the ones dimly remembered can continue to have significant impacts on our daily lives. Case in point – The Korean War of 1950-1953. Almost before my time of course. I was barely a teenager with other things on my mind at the time. The recent political theater with Donald Trump and Kim Jong has prompted my interest. What was the Korean War really about? I came across this publication on Kindle and I think it is well worth the read.

The Korean War: A History  by Bruce Cummings –

From the Amazon Web site : A BRACING ACCOUNT OF A WAR THAT IS EITHER MISUNDERSTOOD, FORGOTTEN, OR WILLFULLY IGNORED.

“For Americans, it was a discrete conflict lasting from 1950 to 1953. But for the Asian world the Korean War was a generations-long struggle that still haunts contemporary events. With access to new evidence and secret materials from both here and abroad, including an archive of captured North Korean documents, Bruce Cumings reveals the war as it was actually fought. He describes its origin as a civil war, preordained long before the first shots were fired in June 1950 by lingering fury over Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Cumings then shares the neglected history of America’s post–World War II occupation of Korea, reveals untold stories of bloody insurgencies and rebellions, and tells of the United States officially entering the action on the side of the South, exposing as never before the appalling massacres and atrocities committed on all sides.

Elegantly written and blisteringly honest, The Korean War is, like the war it illuminates, brief, devastating, and essential.”

This book is not about the battles and the gory aspects of the battle field. This book is about the political back ground of the lead up to the war, a pencil sketch of the war,  and some of ramifications of the outcome of the war. I am not a war buff so that aspect did not particularly interest me. I was more interested in the larger picture and the larger issues. At the time, and even now, the perceived wisdom of the conflict was a simple case of Northern Communist aggression against a democratic Southern Korea that was friendly to the west. Now, in hindsight, it is easy to see that was not the case. In truth it was a civil war with the protagonists representing anti-Japanese and pro-Japanese points of view. The anti-Japanese Koreans had spent years battling the Japanese colonization of Korea and Manchuria. They had fought along side their Chinese compatriots in Manchuria and at the end of  WWII there was an expectation that the allies would dismantle the Japanese (French, British, Dutch etc) colonies and foster national aspirations of those “former” colonies. Of course that never happened. The French were reinstalled in Vietnam, the British in Malaysia, the Dutch in the east Indies, etc). Despite the war crimes tribunials and the establishment of Japanese  guilt for the war, shortly after the completion of hostilities the Americans realized that they needed to re-establish Japanese industry and economic interests to stabilize the area and prevent Communist expansion into the Asian political vacuum. Virtually, that meant re-establishing Japanese interests in Korea.  The result was civil war between those Koreans who were anti-Japanese and those Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese before and during WWII. Like most civil wars it was a brutal conflict with many large scale atrocities  perpetrated by both sides. The war was fought to a stand still and technically a state of war still exists between a Northern communist regime and a somewhat more liberal South Korea. The American had hoped that a popular democratic government in South Korea would eventuate. That did not really happen. As we speak there is a perception that South Korea is a democratic entity much like those of the west but in reality the country has existed with a rotating door of coups and corrupt governments. Unfortunately the North has not fared much better. There has been a stable regime in place since the end of the conflict but the general population has suffered under a brutal dictatorship with a siege mentality. It is that siege mentality that governs the north’s position in any dealings with outside interest. It is the very reason that North Korea will never give up their understandable pursuit of nuclear options. Trump came away from the recent discussions with an assumption that the North will denuclearize. But that will never happen. Why would they give away a trump card when history has shown them what happens to regimes that buckle to American pressure.

Some where, some one, has stated that that the actions of a crazy person are those of some one that keeps on doing the same thing over and over and over again with the expectations of a different outcome. With that in mind haven’t the American been doing that for years and years. They didn’t succeed in Korea or Vietnam. In broad strokes the Vietnam situation a was repeat of the Korean experience. A communist north, a corrupt southern regime, a nationalist determination to achieve independence, a divided country and a civil war with the Americans entering the war on the wrong side of history. The outcome is some what similar. The war did end but the Americans lost that war. In the long run the final outcome is somewhat better with a united Vietnam without war and some semblance of peace and prosperity. With Korea and Vietnam behind them once again the American ended up in a divided Iraq with warring factions in the semblance of a civil war. They may have won  the battles but I suggest they lost the war. Similarly in Afghanistan where I also suggest they have won the battles but have lost the war. I think they have been involved in the region for over ten years and there is still no end in sight.

The book is not exactly holiday reading but it requires very little effort and the possible understanding obtained is worth the effort.

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Cecil Taylor, Pianist Who Defied Jazz Orthodoxy, Is Dead at 89

 

At a concert during the the last European tour of the Miles Davis / John Coltrane Quintet in 1960 a lady in one audience stood up during a John Coltrane solo and pleaded “please make him stop”. I am sure that would be the reaction of most audiences to the music of Cecil Taylor. Even in Jazz circles Cecil Percival Taylor (March 25, 1929 – April 5, 2018) is not exactly a household name. He was a classically trained American pianist and poet and is generally acknowledged as one of the pioneers of the Free Jazz movement. His music is characterized by an extremely energetic, physical approach, resulting in complex improvised sounds that frequently involve tone clusters and polyrhythms. His piano technique has been likened to percussion – referring to the number of keys on a standard piano as “eighty eight tuned drums”. He has also been described as like “Art Tatum with contemporary classical leaning”. The Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould has been reported as saying “Cecil Taylor is the future of piano music”. It is an interesting comment from a musician who is famous for his precise interpretations of the music of Bach. Taylor is from the opposite end of the musical spectrum. Gould’s interpretations are architectual musical masterpieces while Taylor’s musical musings are more like splashes of molten lava.

Taylor is outside the orderly progression of jazz piano styles of the past century. The normal historical flow of American piano music goes back to the almost classical formalism of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, and then onto the improvisational styles of James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, “Fats” Waller, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Nat ‘King” Cole and then the moderns – Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett etc. Taylor stands way outside that tradition. The only pianist that might claim some connection is the Thelonious Monk and he is better known and appreciated as a composer. Like Monk Taylor’s public appearances were performances in the true meaning of the word – music, poetry, dance. At the center of his art was the dazzling physicality and the percussiveness of his playing — his deep, serene, Ellingtonian chords and hummingbird attacks above middle C — which held true well into his 80s. Classically trained, he valued European music for what he called its qualities of “construction” — form, timbre, tone color — and incorporated them into his own aesthetic. “I am not afraid of European influences,” he told the critic Nat Hentoff. “The point is to use them, as Ellington did, as part of my life as an American Negro.”  In a long assessment of Mr. Taylor’s work — one of the first — from “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” a collection of essays on jazz musicians published in 1966, the poet and critic A. B. Spellman wrote: “There is only one musician who has, by general agreement even among those who have disliked his music, been able to incorporate all that he wants to take from classical and modern Western composition into his own distinctly individual kind of blues without in the least compromising those blues, and that is Cecil Taylor, a kind of Bartok in reverse.” Because his fully formed work was not folkish or pop-oriented, did not swing consistently (often it did not swing at all) and never entered the consensual jazz repertoire, Mr. Taylor could be understood to occupy an isolated place. Even after he was rewarded and lionized  his music has not been easy to quantify. If improvisation means using intuition and risk in the present moment, there have been few musicians who took that challenge more seriously than Mr. Taylor. If one of his phrases seemed of paramount importance, another such phrase generally arrived right behind it. The range of expression in his keyboard touch encompassed caresses, rumbles and crashes.   –     (excepts from Wikipedia).

Taylor may not have had a big following but he was not without honors during his lifetime. Even after he was rewarded and lionized — he was given a Guggenheim fellowship in 1973, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 1990, a MacArthur fellowship in 1991 and the Kyoto Prize in 2014 — his music was not easy to quantify nor did it have a great following. There was no academy for what Cecil Taylor did, and partly for that reason he became one himself, teaching for stretches in the 1970s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and at Antioch College in Ohio. (He was given an honorary doctorate by the New England Conservatory in 1977.) Not until the mid-1970s, Mr. Lyons told the writer John Litweiler, did The Cecil Taylor Unit have enough work so that member musicians could make a living from it — mostly in Europe. Although classically trained his comment on written music bears repeating  –  “When you think about musicians who are reading music,” he said in “All the Notes,” a 1993 documentary directed by Chris Felver, “my contention has always been: The energy that you’re using deciphering what the symbol is, is taking away from the maximum creative energy that you might have had if you understood that it’s but a symbol.” (excepts from Wikipedia). I agree with the comment but most of us mere mortals have to start somewhere and once the music is under your belt then perhaps the written symbols should be discarded.

In some ways he reminds me of Frank Zappa. Frank was a “rock” musician who was very distinctly outside the traditions of Rock and Roll. Just try and jam along with a Frank Zappa recording and I think you will get my meaning.

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FACE BOOK

This is an email I put out there………..

Why is everybody surprised by the data mining scandal on Face Book?

Isn’t the whole Face Book business model based on the mining and selling of their client’s data?
If people are so concerned about their own privacy why do they so willingly put it on the internet?
This is a response I received
The surprise is twofold: People mistakenly think of Facebook as an advertising platform. While they vaguely understand that Facebook collects information from them, the exact mechanics and details are fuzzy to them. In their mind, they may tell themselves “I don’t reveal that much through Facebook—I don’t post that much, I don’t fill out much of my profile, what’s the harm? And, frankly, if that helps them show me ads for things I actually want as opposed to crap I’m not interested in, all the better!
What they don’t realize is that Facebook tracks them everywhere they wander on the web via their web browser because Facebook’s tracking cookie is embedded on millions of web sites. That reach is extended to web and mobile apps that allow you to log into them using Facebook. Facebook literally tracks you across the web, mobile space, and if you have the mobile app on your phone, it’s also tracking where you are physically at times. And Facebook has a multitude of apps that people don’t even realize are owned by Facebook: Instagram, WhatsApp, and many others, which further extends its reach. Even if you’re not a Facebook user, they are creating a shadow profile of you as you travel the web to enable ad targeting. Finally, Facebook purchases data from other data aggregators (mortgage sales data, public record, and other) that they use to augment the data their own apps generate.
Facebook is not an advertising platform that tracks you to show better ads; it’s a surveillance platform that happens to make its money through advertising. Knowing users better than anyone else is its moat against competitors.
People are unwilling to admit how easily they can be manipulated.There is a chasm in people’s mind between the type of simplistic persuasion they are willing to admit that advertising is capable of effecting and the sophisticated priming and influence peddling that is possible via Facebook. Facebook’s in-depth demographic and psychological profiles on people around the world (2B+!) coupled with its capability to execute large-scale, programmatically-driven multi-variate testing enables advertisers to be highly selective in targeting specific audiences with particular psychographic profiles, and test the effectiveness of messages with previously impossible scale and precision. Cambridge Analytica was testing something like 150,000 versions of specific campaigns to find just the right combination of images and messages to trigger statistically significant response from its target audience.
The average person cannot comprehend things at that scale. They cannot internalize that while the influence on them of a particular ad might be small, its aggregate effect might be huge, or at least significant enough to trip over the boundary required to, say, win a voting district. They are incapable of crafting a mental model of how any particular technology can be used for nefarious purpose. They are bad at estimating risk.
And when they find out that people can do that, it kind of blows their mind—“Why—<clutches pearls>—who would want to do such a thing?”
If you’re interested in a good read on how people’s brains work in funny ways, check out “Thinking Fast and Slow”, or the more approachable Michael Lewis coverage of the same topic, “The Undoing Project”.
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I deleted my Facebook account several years ago and have not been interested in Twitter or any of the social media. It is not because of any privacy concerns but rather because I found the sites a huge reservoir of trivia and misinformation that is just a waster of time. I don’t really need to know the minute details of everybody’s life.  So what if you had a muffin for lunch and now have a need to go to the bathroom. Who cares?
Although the today’s outcome is slightly different. Never-the-less, the era of GEORGE ORWELL’S 1984 and BIG BROTHER has finally arrived. And what’s more to the point,  it’s worse because people willingly participate, and even buy the hardware (computer, mobile device) and connectivity to enable the massive surveillance,  monitoring and manipulation that is now possible.
DO YOURSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE A FAVOR – DELETE YOUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNT .
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Read any Good Books Lately? (#11) – BLACK ICE by Colin Dunne

This book is described as “A Classic Cold War Thriller” and I guess that’s what it is but it is a little different. There are no CIA / MI6 / FBI / Security Agency conspiracies and while the Russians figure in the plot it is not about the KBG or the “Evil Empire”. It is not set in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Korea or any of the usual political pressure spots that figure in most Spy/Thriller novels and its not all gloom and doom either. If anything there is a very significant thread of humor thought out the story. In fact I would suggest that is one of the strengths of the book. Another would be the story’s location. It is set in Iceland. Now, how many novels have this cold but exotic location for a story? So, it has humor, a good use of language, a good plot, a great location and when you add in an interesting cast of characters you have a worth while read. There is an Icelandic beauty queen who causes some hormonal disturbances in a number of male characters. There is a tabloid journalist who ends up as an amateur spy. A significant number of American, British and Icelandic personalities, and a Russian gay spy who would “simply die” if he was ever sent back to Moscow. Iceland seems to be a interesting place where American and Russian interests collide. Despite the novel’s press release, there is no real scenario where the prospect of war is a possibility. The novel is more about Icelandic political independence, the presence of the American military base on the island and the low level off shore soviet naval presence and how these factors impinge on the characters in the novel.

Here is the publisher blurb in Amazon:

“If you’ve never come to in the middle of the night to find yourself approximately halfway between New York and Moscow, right up on top of the world, standing outside a block of flats wearing nothing other than a ladies’ silk dressing-robe – and that decorated with large scarlet kisses – allow me to describe the sensation. Confused. That’s the word, I think. Confused, and cold around the knees’. Stranded in Iceland, journalist turned spy Sam Craven wakes up to the greatest adventure of his career.

Sent to Reykjavik to track down the model Solrun, in whom British intelligence have taken a sudden interest, Craven finds himself caught up in a vast power-play between two superpowers on the brink of war – and with only his wits to rely on. Trying to stay alive, and one step ahead of a band of ruthless killers, Sam is skating on black ice. One slip and he’s dead.

‘Black Ice’ is a classic Cold War thriller, certain to appeal to fans of Jack Higgins, Len Deighton and Ian Fleming. ”

Yes, this a novel well worth the time of day and some lost sleep.

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Read any Good Books Lately (#10) – Author Kristin Hannah

For those unfamiliar with this author, Kristin Hannah (born September 25, 1960) is an award-winning and bestselling American Writer, who has won numerous awards, including the Golden Heart, the Maggie, and the 1996 National Reader’s Choice award. Hannah was born in California. She graduated from law school in Washington and practiced law in Seattle before becoming a full-time writer. She lives on Bainbridge Island Washington] with her husband and their son. She is a prolific writer with over twenty novels to her credit and they include the following ….. Wikipedia

  • A Handful of Heaven (July 1991)
  • The Enchantment (June 1992)
  • Once in Every Life (December 1992)
  • If You Believe (December 1993)
  • When Lightnings Strikes (October 1994)
  • Waiting for the Moon (September 1995)
  • Home Again (October 1996)
  • On Mystic Lake (February 1999)
  • Angel Falls (April 2000)
  • Summer Island (March 2001)
  • Distant Shores (July 2002)
  • Between Sisters (April 2003)
  • The Things We Do for Love (June 2004)
  • Comfort and Joy (October 2005)
  • Magic Hour (February 2006)
  • Firefly Lane (2008)
  • True Colors (2009)
  • Winter Garden (2010)
  • Night Road (March 2011)
  • Home Front (2012)
  • Fly Away (2013)
  • The Nightingale (2015)

I read The Nightingale  about a year ago. The novel is set in France during the resistance and I found it to be a real page turner. I recommended it to number of my friends and all agreed with my opinion. So, it was only natural that I should add her other novels to my reading list. I have been a little reluctant to plunge right in as her novels tend to be emotional roller coasters that become so engaging that the normal activities of day to day living get pushed into the background. Things like sleeping just gets in the way of finding out what happens next. But I did take the plunge into her 2006 novel Magic Hour and as expected I didn’t get much sleep. From “go to woe” I finished the novel in 24 hours. This is what Amazon has to say about the novel –

“In the rugged Pacific Northwest lies the Olympic National Forest—nearly a million acres of impenetrable darkness and impossible beauty. From deep within this old growth forest, a six-year-old girl appears. Speechless and alone, she offers no clue as to her identity, no hint of her past. Having retreated to her western Washington hometown after a scandal left her career in ruins, child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates is determined to free the extraordinary little girl she calls Alice from a prison of unimaginable fear and isolation. To reach her, Julia must discover the truth about Alice’s past—although doing so requires help from Julia’s estranged sister, a local police officer. The shocking facts of Alice’s life test the limits of Julia’s faith and strength, even as she struggles to make a home for Alice—and for herself. In Magic Hour, Kristin Hannah creates one of her most beloved characters, and delivers an incandescent story about the resilience of the human spirit, the triumph of hope, and the meaning of home.”

I am not a literary critic and I neither have the back ground or the inclination to critique or analyse books in depth. My criteria for literary fiction is fairly straight forward – Is the plot believable? are the characters compelling and well developed? Do I have an over riding compulsion not to put the book down? and do I lose sleep in the process of reading?  Based on these criteria Magic Hour is a 10 out of 10 winner.

Enjoy ……………………………………. I will need to get some sleep and acquire some breathing space before I take on another Kristin Hannah novel

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Vaccines

The implementation of sensible Public Health Policies has always been an uphill battle and the battle never seems to end. The American novelist Sinclair Lewis in his 1925 novel Arrowsmith explored the issues that faced a young idealistic physician in pursuing an ethical career in medicine. In that era American main stream physicians resented Public Health policies that, in their view, threatened to interfere with their ability to make a living. In the course of the novel Lewis describes many aspects of medical training, medical practice, scientific research, scientific fraud, medical ethics, public health, and of personal/professional conflicts that are still relevant today. Thankfully the discussion seems to have moved on and in this modern era the medical professions support evidence based scientific Public Health Policies. Yet despite the over whelming evidence in support of  mass immunization there are continuing efforts to undermine the logic, efficacy and efficiency of modern day programs.  In the past children were at risk from any number of infectious diseases. Modern immunization programs and Public Health policies and initiatives have largely made a significant number of those risks things of the past. Yet we seem to have forgotten that in our life time and in our parent’s life times Diphtheria, Whooping Cough, Tetanus, Smallpox and Polio and a whole host of infectious disease that were very real problems have now been brought  under control by public health initiatives. We are in awe of the spectacular achievements of modern medical and surgical technology and we seem to forget the less dramatic efforts of the quiet revolution in hygiene, sanitation and public health that are the real medical achievments of the past century.

 One of the casualties of the internet era is the devaluation of the “expert”. Even such august bodies as the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) seem to rate less credibility than the opinion of non-expert  celebrities. At the risk of calling upon the non-expert opinion of a celebrity I suggest that the viewing of the attached video by John Oliver is a worth while exercise in getting a balanced view of the battle over immunization. I also think it is an indictment of the current state of affairs that the programs of comedic social commentators like John Oliver , Stephen Colbert and John Stewart  are more likely to be factual than the “alternate facts” perpetuated by certain politicians.

PS. The Novel Arrowsmith has been compared with The Citadel published by British novelist A.J. Cronin in 1937. The Citadel also deals with the life experiences of a young idealistic doctor who tries to challenge and improve the existing system of medical practice.

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